Can A National Marketing Campaign Work?

Life. Plant Life.

What do we stand for as an industry? Do we have a common marketing message or goal? If we don’t, is there still a way to market our industry in a big way to new generations of gardeners?

Joining together for a national promotion order is a technique that has worked for other industries. The idea has popped up several times over the years in our industry, but it has never gained enough traction to become a reality, because a promotion campaign means different things to different people.

Igniting A Conversation

Recently, former OFA president Danny Takao reinvigorated the conversation with an idea for a marketing order with an association-based collection mechanism.

As he wrote in an essay for, “What if a non-profit organization could be the funding/collecting mechanism via assessed yearly dues? Instead of focusing on one group, we assess the complete supply chain based on annual sales. Let’s say we collect $250 to $1,000. If we spread that over everyone in the industry, no one group or company would bear the cost of this campaign. That should raise a minimum of $1 million, plus enough to get going with our national campaign.”

In response, OFA’s Michael Geary says OFA’s elected leaders and staff will discuss how the organization can take an active role in an effort like this one, suggesting the possibility of an all-industry meeting to generate ideas and discuss the costs of a collaborative campaign or marketing effort.

Takao says a program like this only works if everyone in the supply chain contributes, and points out that an assessment of $250 or $1,000 isn’t that high a cost to invest in the industry’s future. While Takao says he’s heard many in the industry say they can’t afford to contribute to a national campaign, he asks if they can afford not to.

“That really tells me all they are thinking about is themselves,” Takao says. “They want someone else to fund this. The more people who support this, the smaller the cost is for each company.”

Mandatory assessments would have to be handled through the USDA-managed Promotion Order program, according to Stan Pohmer, and would only assess growers, not manufacturers, distributors or retailers. Because past efforts toward a mandatory program have failed, some people are against trying this approach again.

“If you try to make it a mandatory assessment, it’s as good as dead,” says Plant Delights Nursery’s Tony Avent. “If you don’t believe me, ask the folks in the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) who tried this same thing over a decade ago. They thought the required vote was a done deal until we informed everyone that the federal government would put a lien on your business if you didn’t pay.”

Still, a voluntary contribution plan can work, Pohmer says. He points out that the America In Bloom beautification program is built on volunteer contributions, and that the Society of American Florists (SAF) earmarks a percentage of collected national dues to marketing initiatives it manages.

Alternative Options

Until a mandatory promotion order is agreed upon, there are other programs and organizations that impact industry sales like a national promotion would, Geary points out, including the OFA-managed America In Bloom program. Other organizations also impact industry sales, Geary says, listing ANLA, National Garden Bureau, American Horticultural Society, National Garden Clubs, Society of American Florists, PLANET, Arbor Day Foundation, Alliance for Community Trees and Keep America Beautiful as examples.

Adds Texas A&M’s Charlie Hall: “We have an existing national marketing campaign. It’s called America in Bloom and it fosters the increased usage of flowers, shrubs and trees in communities all across America.”

Even without a mandatory national promotion order, some collaboration can benefit the entire industry. Hall says that if the entire industry uses the same messaging in marketing, we can accomplish the same effect that a promotion order does.

What Should The Message Be?

If you ask Hall, he says the message our industry shares should be that we “enhance the quality of people’s lives by providing many economic, environmental and health/well-being benefits – things that we have historically not emphasized.”

Catering to the consumer’s desire for ease of use is another message many in the industry have tested, but gardening expert C.L. Fornari says it might be the wrong tactic.

“With all that talk about low-maintenance gardening and foolproof containers, we just set people up for disappointment and frustration,” she says. “They discovered that composting is just a tad complicated and that a combination planter takes a bit more tending than we’d led them to believe.”

Fornari says she has a few marketing messages she’d like to see spread through the consumer world: “You Can Grow That” and “Passionate About Plants.”

“The message should range from serious (Healthy food? You can grow that!) to the fun or surprising (Sex? You can grow that!), she says. “We want it to be the starting point in plant descriptions and the punchline for advertisements, videos and blogs. I want to see David Letterman and Jay Leno make fun of it.” She agrees that what we need is an industry-wide campaign that touches every demographic, from kids to Baby Boomers.

Sid Raisch says that while the “Fall Is For Planting” marketing message hasn’t had a significant effect in the 25 years since it was first used to encourage a new season for gardening, other messages have worked.

“I know some garden centers that have learned to create value with better messaging,” Raisch says. “We need to stop eroding value, and inspire and create a compelling want for our product with the budget that already lies at the control of the garden center.”

He adds that the message should inform and inspire about the benefits of our products instead of devaluing our products through discount messages.

Avent suggests a message similar to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval and related website that promotes those organizations who contributed, so they could see their dollars in action.

“We should look at any marketing program like a cell phone contract,” he says. “Let’s make what the customer gets so good that they wouldn’t want to leave.”

Others say we still have a long way to go before we understand the needs and wants of today’s consumers.

“We need to know more about the customers, the market place and how to provide products that are profitable for our industry and satisfying for the customer,” says Joe Cialone, owner of Tropical Computers and co-founder of the National Foliage Foundation. “I hope Danny’s ideas get the ball rolling again and that our industry responds. I don’t believe that voluntary will do it, but at this point almost anything would be better than what is being done now.”

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